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Focus on Sales Candidate Selection for Success

11 Dec, 2006 By: Tom Callinan imageSource

Focus on Sales Candidate Selection for Success

Almost every dealer I speak with wants to grow their sales
force.  They ask great questions on how or where to source sales reps.  These
dealers spend thousands of dollars per hire on recruiting fees and just as much
or more in soft dollars with the time invested in the interview process and the
on-boarding of the new hire.  The process never seems to end, yet the primary
point of discussion is on where to hire more.

I suggest you shift your primary focus to retention of your
sales hires.  I think retention is driven by a lot of factors, not the least of
which is proper territory structure and proper management engagement through
consistent account reviews and a monthly review and plan developmental system. 
But the focus of this article is on the front end of the process—interviewing
and on-boarding.

Behavioral Interviewing

I was taught to interview the same way as many managers in
the eighties: Review the resume and look for gaps in employment, short-tenure in
positions, or unusual career movement and then meet with the candidate for an
hour or so discussing their career and raising any areas of concern.  In the
nineties I was introduced to behavioral interviewing, clearly an upgrade from
the previous approach.  Today, I use the same basic prework with the resume but
now I start out with "Tell me about your life since you graduated high school"
or some other point in time a decade back, and I looked for behaviors in their
history that would make them successful in sales.

Personal interviews are an important part of selecting a
candidate and behavioral interviewing is significantly better than an ad hoc
approach.  This is true even understanding that the candidate has probably taken
a course on interviewing, read a book or two on the subject, and has a well
rehearsed answer to any question you will ask.  But if you rely solely on your
ability to sit across from an individual believing you can determine that they
will be successful in sales, or any position for that matter, you’re either
clairvoyant or, respectively, fooling yourself.

I believe successful selection begins with defining the
skills, characteristics, and behaviors you seek before you place the ad or call
the agency.  Is a college degree required?  Do they need to have office
equipment experience or is any B2B experience acceptable.  Realizing that people
change jobs more frequently these days, will you exclude anybody who has had
more than three jobs in the last seven years?  You get the point.  If they do
not pass the initial resume screen, they do not get a phone interview.

I recommend you use the phone interview for a short
behavioral interview to validate the picture the resume portrays.  This should
take place within three days of receiving the resume.  If the person on the
phone matches the person on the resume, schedule the first on-site interview. 
This should take place within four days of the phone interview.  I would let
them know that as part of that interview they will be taking a test that helps
you determine fit for position.

It seems managers are polarized on the testing aspect of
selection—many put too much credence on the results and others believe the test
is the equivalent of visiting a Psychic.  I believe the tests are extremely
beneficial as one input into the decision process.  If the candidate is
questionable in enough areas, and have enough "yellow flags," do not hire them. 
If they pass every area with flying colors but are marginal in the fit for
position test, that is only one "yellow flag" and I would hire that person.  It
is one input but one very important input and I believe strongly you should use
one of the many services that administer these tests.

Face-to-Face Facts

I do not believe the first face-to-face interview is the
most critical to your selection.  Certainly for a sales candidate, it helps you
to determine comfort in meetings with an executive, poise, and how they handle
the questions in person.  But you have already screened the candidate’s resume
and held a phone interview to screen further.  The market for sales professionals
is competitive so at this point you need to sell the company and the position as
much as getting deeper into knowing the candidate.  If you are eliminating more
than 25% of the candidates on this step, you should go back and review how you
handled steps one and two.

You have set up the second face-to-face interview within
five days of the first interview.  At this point you are at most twelve days
from the date of receiving the candidate’s resume.  Any person on your team who
will be meeting with the candidate has the time blocked in their calendar.  At
the first interview you provided the candidate with a hypothetical sales
scenario and asked them to develop a presentation.  The scenario was one that
the candidate could understand.  If they did not have office equipment
experience, the scenario was more general, i.e., selling Internet advertising. 
You detailed out the hypothetical prospect’s history in the area and the titles
and other relevant information on the hypothetical executives the sale rep will
be meeting with.  The candidate now comes to the second interview with the
presentation they have prepared and they make the presentation to you and any
other person involved in the hiring decision.

Wow, that seems like a lot of work, will they do that?  If
they will not, will you hire them?  Two critical skills of sales professionals
are presentation and research.  How many times have you discovered that your
"star hire" did not possess one or both of these skills? Short of hiring
them, how can you determine if they possess the skill if you do not ask them to
demonstrate it?  In your description of the hypothetical situation, let the
candidate know that they should not spend more than 90 minutes preparing the
presentation.  You are not looking for perfection, it is an opportunity for the
candidate to demonstrate their comfort giving a presentation to a small group—as
well as their commitment to their goals.  You spent time in the first interview
getting them pumped on the opportunity with your company so if they want the
job, and they feel they are qualified, they will compose the presentation.  If
they fail this step, I would classify that as a red flag.  If they work hard but
need help in their presentation skills, you can add that to their list of areas
to develop if you hire them.

They gave you the presentation and they did well.  Picture
how pumped they will be when you and your sales manager stand up and give them a
high-five!  They are a top candidate and now they are really pumped to join your
organization.  Your sales manager should spend some one-on-one time with the
candidate conducting their own mini behavioral interview.  You should have them
focus on specific areas, looking for yellow or red flags, but also trying to
determine areas of development to add to their personalized plan if they join
your organization.

Final Drum Roll, Please!

The final selection step is reference checks.  I am not a
believer in calling the HR department.  I have a lot of respect for HR, but when
it comes to references they basically tell you start date and end date.  You
need to get to a manager in the organization to get a solid reference.  Use your
sales skills and make that happen.  Complete this step within two days of the
second face-to-face interview.

Throughout the process make the candidate feel valued. 
When you have a set time for an interview, make certain it occurs at that time. 
Do not take phone calls, scan emails, or allow interruptions during the
interview.  You have a five digit decision in front of you.  A sales rep that
turns costs you tens of thousands of dollars.  Treat the decision as if it cost
you a lot of money—it will.

Finally, when you select your next star employee, make
certain their first day at work is pleasant.  Have an on-boarding schedule
prepared for them so they know precisely what they are doing every hour of their
first week.  Make sure the employees they will be spending time with are
prepared for the meetings.  Send out a notice to your key employees with some
information on the new hire so they can greet them warmly when they first meet. 
The new employee’s manager should greet them in your lobby immediately upon
arrival—don’t allow them to sit out there waiting.  Have their desk clear and
ready—not populated with the last sales rep’s cards and files.  Make a strong
first impression.  It is a hard job and you want the person to know that they
are valued.

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